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Lessons from Luxury Travel

There’s really only one word to describe Machu Picchu, and Ingram Chodorow uses it as he steps off a bus having just toured the Inca empire’s ruins. “Spectacular,” he says. “Just spectacular.” But that’s not the only thing he had on his mind that day. He was also thinking about distribution. Chodorow is the chairman, president and CEO of Placontrol Inc. of San Diego, Calif., a private company he founded to promote his invention, the Plackers tooth flosser-the horseshoe- shaped device with a string for flossing one’s teeth that has been widely imitated. He and his wife, Ellen, were traveling with 72 other passengers around the world in a chartered B757 run by TCS Expeditions. The 25-day trip from late January to mid- February hit 11 destinations, starting in Peru, ending in London, and making stops in between at Easter Island, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, Dubai, and the Serengeti. It cost $55,950 per person, and included a business-class seat, all luxury hotels and gourmet meals, plus expert tour guides, lecturers and a private physician. With this category of private jet travel growing in popularity in recent years, business executives are finding opportunities to not only take a vacation but boost their awareness of the world and make new contacts for business opportunities. “Our products are used all over the world, and we ship all over the world,” says Chodorow. “I try to get a feeling for different countries and see how big our reach can be.” In Dubai, he says indignantly, “they plopped a competitive product made in China on the table.”

He knew, however, that his company had recently signed an agreement to increase his product’s distribution and visibility there. He hopes to do the same in India-where there is already a long tradition of post-meal teeth cleansing by chewing fennel seeds after meals. In Australia, he saw that the drugstore chain market is dominated by three big chains-providing tremendous distribution opportunity for a quality product. He even signed up TCS Expeditions as a customer; the travel company will start distributing Plackers to passengers with their meals.

Serendipity plays a role, says Chodorow. “Every so often, maybe on a trip like this, I’ll meet someone who’s right in the middle of the target-in the right place at the right time.”

Increasing awareness about the world in an age of growing globalization is essential, says Dixon Doll, the co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley‘s DCM venture capital firm, who traveled with his wife, Carol. “I firmly believe people need to get out there and see the world and not be sitting on Sand Hill Road,” says Doll. “Globalization has happened in our business, whether venture capital has wanted it to or not. One of the things VCs are going to have to do to be successful is see the world.”

There are other business reasons for taking this type of trip. For Bill Ungerman, CFO and co-founder of Coastal Pacific Food Distributors in Stockton, Calif., it was a chance to start thinking about succession planning. He left a number of responsibilities to his deputies back home to see how the office would function in his absence-and perhaps prepare for his eventual retirement. Ungerman is a history buff-the true reason for the trip-but the trip with his wife Laura also served an important business purpose.

“It’s an opportunity to see how things will run without you,” he says. “Trips like this are a way of finding out how vulnerable or successful you are in that area. What you want is to get yourself to a point of being irrelevant to the business.”

All went well without him, he reports. “Conversely, decisions were made that I wouldn’t have made, and I’m left with the realization that I’m not in the position to have that strong of an opinion on a business decision if I have one foot in the door and one out.”

Or one foot on a jetway, seeing the world. The trip brought Ungerman to the realization that he has to make a decision to be fully involved, or to retire.

But business reasons aside, he says: “Overall we had an experience we’ll never forget, and we loved every minute of it.”

 Private Jet Expeditions

Abercrombie & Kent

The highest-priced luxury travel, with fewest passengers

Passengers: 50

Cost: $97,970 per person ($9,680 single supplement)

National Geographic

Organizes Around-the-World through TCS Expeditions; offers various other trips

Passengers: 74

Cost: $55,950 per person ($4,200 single supplement)

Starquest Expeditions

Set up by TCS’s original founder; now a sister company of TCS Expeditions

Passengers: 88

Cost: $57,380 per person ($7,430 single supplement)

TCS Expeditions

Market leader and sister company of Travcoa, Starquest Organizes with: Travcoa, National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, alumni groups

Passengers: 74

Cost: $55,950 per person ($4,200 single supplement)

World Wildlife Fund

Organizes Around-the-World through TCS; offers various other trips

Passengers: 74

Cost: $64,950 per person (April 2009 only) ($3,100 single supplement)


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